Friday, January 27, 2012

Heritage Myth # 2: All heritage organizations are the same.

It seems there's no clear idea among the general public about who London's heritage community is and how it operates. Sometimes the heritage community itself doesn't seem to be too sure how it operates, so it's not surprising so few others get it.

The fact is, local heritage organizations are often approached for information they can't provide. The Historical Society, for example, is prone to getting requests from genealogists.

So let's clarify who the local public should go to for what information:

Have a question about London history? Contact the London & Middlesex Historical Society, the oldest of London's heritage organizations, in existence since 1901. Several of its members are walking reference books on London history.

Researching the history of your house? Try the London Public Library's London Room. Librarian Arthur McClelland has been known to do talks on this very subject.

Renovating a heritage building and not sure what alterations you should make? Contact the London Advisory Committee on Heritage.

Interested in learning about local architecture? Get in touch with the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario London Branch. If that seems a little long-winded, call them ACO London for short.

Researching your family tree and becoming stumped? Contact London & Middlesex County Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society. Or OGS for short.

There are lots of other local groups, many of which I've provided links to from this blog. Sorry, no real historical museum or archives yet.

And yes, we could use an umbrella organization that represents all the heritage groups in London. It would add another level of bureaucy but might also provide the historical community with some unity and direction. How about United Heritage Front? What do you mean, the initials U.H.F. been used for something before...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Heritage Myth # 1: Replacing old with new is progress.

"You can't stand in the way of progress."

How many times have heritage preservations heard this? Apparently many people still think progress consists of substituting new buildings for old. Well maybe, sometimes, depending on the buildings. But most of the time, no. There are many reasons for preserving older architecture, like...

Heritage buildings reflect the individual styles of countries, cultures, or regions. Modern architecture reflects globalization. Oh, sure there are some interesting modern buildings in the world. But most of them don't exactly reflect local building traditions.

While public buildings sometimes show a little originality, most new domestic architecture is a bore. Sometimes it seems there's a plot to make entire cities and countries look like this, or, horror of horrors, this. Would you be able to tell the difference between a new house in Toronto, a new house in New Zealand, and a new house in England? They all look like Masonville McMansions.

Modern architecture is science. Old architecture is art. Art is more aesthetically pleasing than cold, impersonal science. It's amazing how often beauty isn't in the eye of the beholder.

Old architecture is human-sized and welcoming. New buildings make one feel puny and insignificant. Compare London's old and new courthouses which are the 2nd and 4th pictures on this link. Of course we need larger buildings today - we have more people than we did in 1829 - but there's something cosy about our colonial past. Kudos to the County of Middlesex for preserving the Old Courthouse, our own little castle.

Visitors like to look at interesting old buildings and it's hard to do that when they're not there. Heritage means tourism and tourism makes money. Look at Niagara-on-the-Lake. A giant live-in museum is a cash cow. Let's try milking the cow here.